Special Care For Your Older Dog
As most dog owners would tell you, owning a dog is more than just having a pet - it’s a unique opportunity to share a special bond with a four-legged friend; it’s having a new and special member in your family; and for many people, dogs are a way to help cope with the impossible stresses of life. Because they play such a special role in our lives, we want to make sure we help them live the longest lives possible.
As a long-time dog owner myself, I know about all of this firsthand. When I was 10 our family adopted a German Shepherd puppy named Bridgette. She was theperfect combination of playfulness, intelligence and fluffy cuteness. She and I were best friends from the first day we brought her home and although she was an integral part of our family, I always felt I shared an extra-special bond with her. As we grew up together she spent countless hours going on walks with me, enduring the various “tricks” I would try to teach her in the backyard, watching my brother and I spend our summers in the pool and always sitting right under my chair at nightwhen I studied. She was my confidant and protector. Bridgette also saw me throughmajor life changes like high school graduation, college graduation and getting married. As time went on her muzzle grayed and her gait started to lack the pep it used to have. Her tail started sagging and she slowed down. It was hard to see her age and know that her lifespan would sadly be over in far too short a time. She livedto be 15 years old and I was with her when she drew her final breath and finally was at peace. I still carry her heart-shaped name tag on my keychain to this day and havea picture of her over my bed.
I’m sure my story is familiar to many of you. If we could somehow stop time and keep our four-legged family members alive forever we would. Unfortunately, that just isn’t possible. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we as pet owners can’t do to help our older dogs live as long as possible though. There are actually quite a few key things that we can do to ensure that our pets can get the most out of their later years.
The first thing may seem obvious but is of crucial importance – regular examinations by your veterinarian. Although your dog may seem happy and healthy and a trip to the vet for an exam may seem a waste of time or money, there are actually a number of problems that can be detected on examination. These problems, when found early can often be treated or managed much more effectively thus prolonging the life of your pet. I can’t tell you the number of times we have seen older pets for “routine” examination where the owner happily reports that their dog is in tip-top shape with no problems whatsoever. However, on examinationwe find evidence of problems that if left unchecked would have lead to their pet’s untimely demise or would have progressed to a far more serious and life threateningproblem. Things like tumors, certain types of cancers, liver disease, endocrine problems, and countless other things can be found on examination alone.
The second important part of keeping your older dog healthy is regular lab tests. Often times we can find early evidence of disease on blood work and urine testing in patients who otherwise appear healthy and normal. By finding these problems so early on, we are better able to manage these problems thus extending the life of your pet.
Diet and exercise also play a very important part in your older dog’s health. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight becomes increasingly important as they age. Arthritis and degenerative joint disease typically plague older dogs and carrying extra weight puts unnecessary additional stress on the body making these problems more difficult to manage. A healthy amount of exercise is important as well. Not only is it healthy psychologically for your dog to get out and about, but moderate exercise can help keep problems like diabetes at bay as well as help your dog to stay fit and trim.
Lastly, be aware that as your dog ages, you need to be even more astute in watching for warning signs that a problem may be arising. Changes in eating habits, lethargy, difficulty getting around, cough, difficulty breathing, sudden gain or loss in weight or changes in stool can all be early indications of underlying problems. If any of these should occur, don’t delay. Your dog is counting on you to notice and get them examined so they can get the help they need!
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